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HPGL, sometimes hyphenated as HP-GL, is the primary printer control language used by Hewlett-Packard plotters. The name is an initialism for Hewlett-Packard Graphics Language. It later became a standard for almost all plotters. Hewlett-Packard's printers also usually support HPGL in addition to PCL.

The language is formed from a series of two letter codes, followed by optional parameters. For instance an arc can be drawn on a page by sending the string:


This means Arc Absolute, and the parameters place the center of the arc at 100,100 on the page, with a starting angle of 50 degrees measured counter-clockwise. A fourth optional parameter (not used here) specifies how far the arc continues, and defaults to 5 degrees.

Typical HPGL files started with a few setup commands, followed by a long string of graphics commands. For instance:

An example HPGL file
Command Meaning
IN; initialize, start a plotting job
IP; set the initial point (origin), in this case the default 0,0
SC0,100,0,100; set the scale so the page is 0 to 100 in both X and Y directions
SP1; select pen 1
PU0,0; move pen to starting point for next action
PD100,0,100,100,0,100,0,0; put down the pen and move to the following locations (draw a box around the page)
PU50,50; lift the pen and move to 50,50
CI25; draw a circle with radius 25
SS; select the standard font
DT*,1; set the text delimiter to the asterisk, and don't print them (the 1, meaning "true")
PU20,80; lift the pen and move to 20,80
LBHello World*; draw a label

The coordinate system was based on the smallest units one of their plotters could support, and was set to 25 µm (i.e. 40 units per millimeter, 1016 per inch). The coordinate space was positive or negative floating point numbers, specifically ±230.


The original HP/GL-Language does not support definition of line width, as this parameter was determined by the pens loaded into the plotter. With the advent of the first inkjet plotters, line width for the "pens" specified within the HP/GL-files had to be set at the printer so it would know what line width to print for each pen, a cumbersome and error-prone process. With HP/GL-2, definition of line width was introduced into the language and allowed for elimination of this step. Also, among other improvements a binary format was defined that allowed for smaller files and shorter file transfer times, and the minimal resoution was reduced.

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